E-commerce is fundamentally changing postal and parcel markets. Global e-commerce streams revolutionize shopping, but the current parcel streams are ill-fitted to accommodate this. Almost one out of five EU citizens identifies cheaper delivery prices as the main improvement that would encourage more online shopping from sellers located in other EU Member States. Similarly, more than one third of online merchants consider higher costs of cross-border delivery compared to domestic delivery as an obstacle in online cross-border trade. Inefficient cross-border delivery is consistently in the top three of biggest barriers for online merchants to sell in another EU Member State, as figures show: logistics and distribution represent a difficult barrier to tackle for 33% of the companies selling abroad. Even though the situation has slightly improved compared to figures for 2015 (44%), online merchants still face major issues.
Concretely, online merchants identify the following barriers which still remain:
- Lack of a global level playing field from service providers;
- Lack of standardized interface specification to exchange data and to harmonize labelling;
- Lack of information on differences in service and standards;
- In some cases, lack of track-and-trace services: leading to consumers inquiring information with merchants or consumers unjustifiably claiming a package has not arrived;
- Excessive delivery times throughout Europe: in particular, for non-express services;
- Customs and VAT administration: too complicated, rules vary greatly;
- Reverse logistics: especially problematic for small volumes;
- Lack of transparency in pricing.
Specifically concerning track-and-trace, common practice is that European postal services relabel parcels when crossing borders, converting them from “international” into “domestic” ones. This causes a major issue because the track-and-trace service stops at the border. As a result, only approximately
60% of cross-border postal parcels are traceable. The remaining 40% lose the traceability at the border due to relabeling and a lack of cross referencing between track-and-trace systems.
It is clear that digitalization is changing current delivery value chains, and this has a direct impact on costs and business models. Online commerce shifts the focus of delivery to the demands and needs of the modern consumer:
- The demand for quality leads to measurable performance and customer service being at the heart of the business model.
- The demand for speed leads to customer retention via same-day or even immediate delivery options, financed via a flat fee model.
- The demand for transparency leads beyond traceability to proactive messaging and real-time adjustments according to the preferences of the recipient.
- The demand for convenience leads to easy-to-use return solutions, scheduled drop-off and alternative delivery options, pick-up and recycling options.
All demands should be based on a data-driven service delivery industry that necessitates standardization, in order to avoid the creation of independent networks of interconnected information, which would impair the ease of access to systems that online merchants are looking for. The ecommerce
sector has already internalized these principles. Now it is time for the delivery sector to adapt its business models and infrastructure as well. The distinction between “courier”, “express” and “postal” has become irrelevant, and borders have become obsolete.